Co-evolving technologies: Telephones, film

May 31, 2011

Blasts from the past.

First, an AT&T advertisement — shown in theatres — in silent film.  the short introduced dial phones to part of central California in early 1927.  Historical footnote:  Some theatres had played short-subject sound films, but the famous full-length first “talkie,” “The Jazz Singer” with superstar Al Jolson in the lead role, didn’t get into production until after this phone exchange went to dials (the dial service cutover was set for May 28; Jolson didn’t sign a contract to do the film until July, and the film’s rushed premiere was October 6).

This short reflects movie conventions of the silent era.

A short time later, we get a sound version of the film instructing in the use of a dial telephone.

In 1962 AT&T promoted Touch-Tone dialing at the Seattle World’s Fair (the Fair was in 1962; the YouTube video says 1963); this is a clip from a longer film, in color; where the film was intended to be exhibited I do not know:

The longer film was a 14-minute production from AT&T, “Century 21 Calling . . .”  The longer film used the backdrop of the World’s Fair, including the monorail, to demonstrate new technologies in the pipeline, like call forwarding — technologies that were really about 20 years in the future for most people.  If you’ve got the time and want to immerse yourself in the past, here’s the whole film at CrunchGear.

We should search for earlier films on telephones.  Telephones were toys of the rich in the late 19th century.  Edison’s workable movie system started cranking out movies in 1892.  It is conceivable that there is another, earlier film on how to use a hand-crank telephone, prior to 1927.

But here we see three classic, period pieces, from 1927, from about 1930, and from 1962.  Each film ostensibly shows an advance in the user interface for the telephone, but each film also demonstrates the technology of films available at the time.  There’s a heck of an essay with a grand moral in there, somewhere.

Note on filibustering new technologies:  Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Carter Glass worked to get dial telephones banned and removed from the Senate wing of the Capitol with a resolution in 1930.  Here’s the account from the Senate Historical Office:

June 25, 1930
Senate Considers Banning Dial Phones

Senator Carter Glass of Virginia
Carter Glass (D-VA)

In the spring of 1930, the Senate considered the following resolution:

Whereas dial telephones are more difficult to operate than are manual telephones; and Whereas Senators are required, since the installation of dial phones in the Capitol, to perform the duties of telephone operators in order to enjoy the benefits of telephone service; and Whereas dial telephones have failed to expedite telephone service; Therefore be it resolved that the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is authorized and directed to order the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. to replace with manual phones within 30 days after the adoption of this resolution, all dial telephones in the Senate wing of the United States Capitol and in the Senate office building.

Sponsored by Virginia’s Carter Glass, the resolution passed without objection when first considered on May 22, 1930. Arizona’s Henry Ashurst praised its sponsor for his restrained language. The Congressional Record would not be mailable, he said, “if it contained in print what Senators think of the dial telephone system.” When Washington Senator Clarence Dill asked why the resolution did not also ban the dial system from the District of Columbia, Glass said he hoped the phone company would take the hint.

One day before the scheduled removal of all dial phones, Maryland Senator Millard Tydings offered a resolution to give senators a choice. It appeared that some of the younger senators actually preferred the dial phones. This angered the anti-dial senators, who immediately blocked the measure’s consideration.

Finally, technology offered a solution. Although the telephone company had pressed for the installation of an all-dial system, it acknowledged that it could provide the Senate with phones that worked both ways. But Senator Dill was not ready to give up. In his experience, the dial phone “could not be more awkward than it is. One has to use both hands to dial; he must be in a position where there is good light, day or night, in order to see the number; and if he happens to turn the dial not quite far enough, then he gets a wrong connection.”

Senator Glass, the original sponsor, had the last word before the Senate agreed to the compromise plan. “Mr. President, so long as I am not pestered with the dial and may have the manual telephone, while those who want to be pestered with [the dial] may have it, all right.”

A very big tip of the old scrub brush to Mary Almanza, who piqued my interest with her post of the “how to dial” video on Facebook.


Old-Picture.com, good resource for teachers and students

May 31, 2011

Here’s a source of high-quality photos, most at least 90 years old.  A lot of these photos would fit nicely into presentations for history classes:  Old-Picture.com.

Many of the photos don’t appear much of any place else.  There are historic maps, too.

For example:  What’s a “whistlestop tour?”

Here is President William H. Taft making such a tour, or rather, speaking during a stop on such a tour, at Redfield (what state?  South Dakota?  Iowa?  New York?):

W. H. Taft on whistlestop tour, in Redfield

W. H. Taft on whistlestop tour, in Redfield

Here’s Taft, again, at “Boutelle at Janesville;” note especially the boys climbing the pole to get a better look:

1908 Taft whistlestop tour, Boutelle at Janesville (wherever that is!)

1908 Taft whistlestop tour, Boutelle at Janesville (wherever that is!)

Janesville is probably the city in Wisconsin.

Here’s Taft at a train, again in 1908 — might we assume it’s the same trip?

W. H. Taft at a train, in 1908 - campaigning?

W. H. Taft at a train, in 1908 -- campaigning?

Here Taft and his party are pictured on a train, in Chicago.  Same train?  Same trip?  Who are the other men with him?

W. H. Taft and party on a train, 1908 presidential campaign

W. H. Taft and party on a train in Chicago, 1908 presidential campaign

For another view, here’s what Taft saw at one of his stops — the crowd assembled to listen to him speak, in 1908:

Crowd gathered to hear Taft's campaign speech, 1908 (location, "West?")

Crowd gathered to hear Taft's campaign speech, 1908 (location, "West?") -- love that Tom Mix-looking hat on the guy in the middle, no?

Put these pictures together in a different order — it’s a clear illustration of just what a “whistlestop” tour is.  These slides could complement a presentation comparing this trip with Harry Truman’s 1948 whistlestop tour, just two generations later.  Or, juxtapose these pictures with pictures of John F. Kennedy in 1960, or Richard Nixon in 1968, or Bill Clinton’s bus tours in 1992 and 1996.

I’ll wager you’ve not seen at least one of these photos before (they are all new to me).  Old-Picture.com has a great collection of stuff.  So far as I can tell, the site administrator lists no copyright restrictions (there’s got to be a story in there somewhere).

What can you do with this collection?


Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889

May 31, 2011

Robber Barons and other very wealthy people owned a dam above Johnstown, Pennsylvania, at a hunting club.  The dam was known to be deteriorating, but the very wealthy did not want to foot the bill to fix the dam.

Bridge and Cambria Iron Works, showing 30 acres of debris in the river - Johnstown Flood

30 acres of debris in the river, bridge and Cambria Iron Works in the background - Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889 - Library of Congress photo at Johnstown Flood Museum

In a rainstorm, on May 31, 1889, the dam broke.  More than 2,200 people died in the flood and fires that followed.

It is impossible to describe briefly the suddenness with which the disaster came. A warning sound was heard at Conemaugh a few minutes before the rush of water came, but it was attributed to some meteorological disturbance, and no trouble was borrowed because of the thing unseen. As the low, rumbling noise increased in volume, however, and came nearer, a suspicion of danger began to force itself even upon the bravest, which was increased to a certainty a few minutes later, when, with a rush, the mighty stream spread out in width, and when there was not time to do anything to save themselves. Many of the unfortunates where whirled into the middle of the stream before they could turn around; men, women and children were struggling in the streets, and it is thought that many of them never reached Johnstown, only a mile or two below.

At Johnstown a similar scene was enacted, only on a much larger scale. The population is greater and the sweeping whirlpool rushed into a denser mass of humanity. The imagination of the reader can better depict the spectacle than the pen of the writer can give it. It was a twilight of terror, and the gathering shades of evening closed in on a panorama of horrors that has few parallels in the history of casualties.

When the great wave from Conemaugh lake behind the dam, came down the Conemaugh Valley, the first obstacle it struck was the great viaduct over the South Fork. This viaduct was a State work, built to carry the old Portage road across the Fork. The Pennsylvania Railroad parallels the Portage road for a long distance, and runs over the Fork. Besides sweeping the viaduct down, the bore, or smaller bores on its wings, washed out the Portage road for miles. One of the small bores went down the bed of a brook which comes into the Conemaugh at the village of South Fork, which is some distance above the viaduct. The big bore backed the river above the village. The small bore was thus checked in its course and flowed into the village.

The obstruction below being removed, the backed-up water swept the village of South Fork away. The flood came down. It moved steadily but with a velocity never yet attained by an engine moved by power controllable by man….

“Johnstown is annihilated, ” telegraphed Superintendent Pitcarin to Pittsburg on Friday night. “He came,” says one who visited the place on Sunday, “very close to the facts of the case. Nothing like it was ever seen in this country. Where long rows of dwelling-houses and business blocks stood forty-eight hours ago, ruin and desolation now reign supreme. Probably 1500 houses have been swept from the face of the earth as completely as if they had never been erected. Main street, from end to end, is piled fifteen and twenty feet high with debris, and in some instances it is as high as the roofs of the houses. This great mass of wreckage fills the street from curb to curb, and frequently has crushed the buildings in and filled the space with reminders of the terrible calamity. There is not a man in the place who can give any reliable estimate of the number of houses that have been swept away. City Solicitor Kuehn, who should be very good authority in this matter, places the number at 1500.  From the woolen mill above the island to the bridge, a distance of probably two miles, a strip of territory nearly a half mile in width has been swept clean, not a stick of timber or one brick on top of another being left to tell the story. It is the most complete wreck that imagination could portray.

“All day long men, women, and children were plodding about the desolate waste looking in vain to locate the boundaries of their former homes. Nothing but a wide expanse of mud, ornamented here and there with heaps of driftwood, remained, however, for their contemplation. It is perfectly [accurate] to say that every house in the city that was not located well up on the hillside was either swept completely away or wrecked so badly that rebuilding will be absolutely necessary. These losses, however, are nothing compared to the frightful sacrifice in precious human lives to be seen on every hand.

“During all this solemn Sunday Johnstown has been drenched with the tears of stricken mortals, and the air is filled with sobs and sighs that come from breaking hearts. There are scenes enacted here every hour and every minute that affect all beholders profoundly. When homes are thus town asunder in an instant, and the loved ones hurled from the arms of loving and devoted mothers, there is an element of sadness in the tragedy that overwhelms every heart….

“It is impossible to describe the appearance of Main street. Whole houses have been swept down this one street and become lodged. The wreck is piled as high as the second-story windows. The reporter could step from the wreck into the auditorium of the opera house. The ruins consist of parts of houses, trees, saw logs and reels from the wire factory. Many houses have their side walls and roofs torn up, and one can walk directly into what had been second-story bed-rooms, or go in by way of the top. Further up town a raft of logs lodged in the street, and did great damage. At the beginning of the wreckage, which is at the opening of the valley of the Conemaugh, one can look up the valley for miles and not see house. Nothing stands but an old woolen mill….”

Seen from the high hill across the river from Johnstown, the Conemaugh Valley gives an easy explanation of the terrible destruction which it has suffered. This valley, stretching back almost in a straight line for miles, suddenly narrows near Johnstown. The wall of water which came tearing down toward the town, picking up all the houses and mils in the villages along its way, suddenly rose in height as it came to the narrow pass. It swept over the nearest part of the town and met the waters of Stony creek, swollen by rains, rushing along with the speed of a torrent. The two forces coming together, each turned aside and started away again in a half-circle, seeking an outlet in the lower Conemaugh Valley. The massive stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, at the lower base of the triangle was almost instantly choked up with the great mass of wreckage dashed against it, and became a dam that could not be swept away, and proved to be the ruin of the town and the villages above. The waters checked here, formed a vast whirlpool, which destroyed everything within its circle. It backed up on the other side of the triangle, and devastated the village of Kernville, across the river from Johnstown.

The force of the current was truly appalling. The best evidence of its force is exhibited in the mass of debris south of the Pennsylvania bridge. Persons on the hillsides declare that houses, solid from their foundation stones, were rushed on to destruction at the rate of thirty miles an hour. On one house forty persons were counted; their cries for help were heard far above the roaring waters. At the railroad bridge the house parted in the middle, and the cries of the unfortunate people were smothered in the engulfing waters. 

Extract from: Willis Fletcher Johnson, History of the Johnstown Flood…. Edgewood Publishing Company, 1889.

What is the moral to this tale?

Resources:


Memorial Day 2011 – Please fly your flag to honor our fallen heroes

May 30, 2011

Flags at DFW National Cemetery - IMGP4169 photo by Ed Darrell

U.S. flags wave at DFW National Cemetery, May 30, 2010. Photo by Ed Darrell

Our local Rotary Club provides a U.S. flag planted in your yard for flag-flying events from Memorial Day through Labor Day, for an annual subscription of about $15.00. Local groups, including especially Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, take a route and plant the flags.

As a consequence, our town is loaded with flags on a weekend like this one.

But even if you don’t subscribe to a flag service, please remember to fly your flag today.

Memorial Day honors people who died in defense of the nation. Armed Forces Day honors those who serve currently, celebrated the third Saturday in May. Veterans Day honors the veterans who returned.

On Memorial Day itself, flags on poles or masts should be flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon. At noon, flags should be raised to full-staff position.

When posting a flag at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the full-staff position first, with vigor, then slowly lowered to half-staff; when retiring a flag posted at half-staff, it should be raised to the full staff position first, with vigor, and then be slowly lowered. Some people attach black streamers to stationary flags, though this is not officially recognized by the U.S. Flag Code.

On Memorial Day, 3:00 p.m. local time is designated as the National Moment of Remembrance.

Memorial Day traditionally came on May 30, but now comes on the last Monday in May.  In 2011 the last Monday happens to be May 30, a nice blend of tradition and formal law.

US flag on home in NC Outer Banks

Flag flies at a home in North Carolina's Outer Banks

 


LA Times on the Texas drought

May 29, 2011

Contrary to the Warming Contrarians (WCs), Texas is still in a drought — a bad one.

LA Times on the Texas drought, posted with vodpod

Oddly, the great story on the Texas drought that showed up in the Dallas Morning News last week, does not show up on their website.  Because this is a climate change-related issue, I think we should track it.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Michael Tobis at Only In It For The Gold.


Terrible plunge of BBC News

May 28, 2011

BBC Radio News logo

BBC Radio News logo

3:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time.  In Barcelona, Spain, London’s Wembley Stadium, Manchester United and Barcelona(Spain) tangle for the Champions’ League trophy.

BBC News?  This is the order of the stories:

  • In Afghanistan, the national police chief was murdered by a suicide bomber
  • In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was fined $90 million for interfering with business by cutting phones and internet
  • Yemen’s got trouble
  • Palestinian independence got support from the Arab League, meeting in Doha, Qatr
  • U.S. President Obama ended his tour of Europe in Poland, with a pledge of friendship
  • In Moscow, Russian, gay rights demonstrators were attacked by a mob led by people who said they are members of the Russian Orthodox Church
  • Barcelona leads Manchester, 3 to 1, with minutes to play

I’m not usually one to complain, but doesn’t it appear BBC News has its priorities wrong in this order of stories?


Dallas ISD projects less dismal budget picture

May 26, 2011

Generally, Texas school districts need to lock down their school year budgets by about the end of April.

Of course, that’s not possible this year.  As of this morning, it looked as though the Texas Lege could not agree on school funding, and they will have to return for a special session to set education budgets in June or July.

Can you imagine being the budget officer for a Texas school district?

But, sorta good news in Dallas:  Budget officers, making their best guesses on what will  happen, created Budget 5.0 (the fifth iteration of this process — one is usually all a district gets, or needs).

Here’s the message from Downtown on the school’s internal communication system:

Budget Plan 5.0 presented to trustees

Budget Plan 5.0 was presented to trustees today during a budget workshop. The administration is optimistic that this particular scenario, which envisions a $90 million cut in state funding to the district, will be closest to the final budget presented to the board for approval in June.

Here are some of the highlights of Budget Plan 5.0:

  • No additional layoffs at the campus level will be necessary.
  • There will not be an additional loss in the number of teaching positions. The early resignation incentive offered earlier in the spring cut enough from the payroll to make any additional loss of positions unnecessary. It must be noted, however, that some reassignments will need to occur to level campuses depending upon staffing needs.
  • Full day pre-kindergarten for eligible Title I students, which has been a priority of the Board of Trustees, will be funded.
  • Certain teacher stipends will be eliminated.
  • Secondary schools will be staffed at a 27-1 class-size ratio, an increase over the current level of 25-1. While this is not ideal, it is preferable to earlier budget versions that included a 35-1 ratio.

Texas lawmakers remain gridlocked on the funding mechanism for schools yet have indicated an agreement in principle on the amount that will be available. The latest funding scenarios from the state give the district confidence to move forward with Budget Plan 5.0, with the possibility of some modifications, prior to its approval by the Board of Trustees in June.


Chronic drought complicated by chronic denialism

May 26, 2011

Which is worse:  To be in the depths of a drought, or to deny drought where it exists?

I ask the question because, as one cannot tear one’s eyes away from a train wreck about to occur, I watch Steve Goddard’s blog.  Occasionally Steve or one of his fellow travelers says something so contrary to reality or fact that I can’t resist pointing it out.

In some discussion over there, Goddard suggested that because there is above-average snowpack around Salt Lake City and in Northern Utah, Lake Powell’s decade-long struggle with extreme drought is over.  Therefore, to Goddard, global warming does not exist.

(No, I’m not really exaggerating.  Seriously.  Go look.  No one there seems to have ever had a course in logic, nor in English composition and essay writing.  If Al Gore got svelte, one suspects half the commenters there would never be able to speak again.)

It is true that this year, contrary to the past decade, snowpack is high along the Wasatch Front and in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, and in Wyoming and Colorado areas that drain into the Green and Colorado Rivers.  Consequently, forecasters say that Lake Powell may gain a few feet of depth this year.  Powell is down about 50 feet, however, and even a record snowpack won’t erase the effects of drought on the lake.  (Yeah, I know:  The Wasatch doesn’t drain into the Colorado system — it drains to the Great Salt Lake, as indeed do many of the streams that have great snowpack in Utah — so a lot of the record snowpack won’t get within 400 miles of Lake Powell.  That’s geography, and it would be one more area that commenters would embarrass themselves in.  Don’t ask the pig to sing if you aren’t going to spend the time to teach it; if you need the aphorism on teaching pigs to sing, look it up yourself.)

Since Lake Powell won’t lose a lot of elevation this year, the Goddardites (Goddardians?  Goddards?  Goddardoons?) pronounce the U.S. free of drought.

Right.

Check it out for yourself, Dear Reader.  Here’s an animation from the National Drought Center, showing drought measurements in the contiguous 48 states plus Alaska and Hawaii, over the past 12 weeks:

Drought in the U.S., 12 weeks ending May 17, 2011, National Drought Mitigation Center, U of Nebraska-Lincoln

Drought in the U.S., 12 weeks ending May 17, 2011, National Drought Mitigation Center, U of Nebraska-Lincoln - click on map for a larger version at the Drought Monitor site.

Here’s the drought outlook map from the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA:

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook Map, released May 19, 2011, NOAA and the Climate Prediction Center

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook Map, released May 19, 2011, NOAA and the Climate Prediction Center - click image for a larger version at NOAA's site.

It would be wonderful were these droughts to break soon.  But that is very unlikely.

So, why would anyone deny it?

Then, just to indicate the bait-and-switch logic these guys use, Goddard came back with a claim that the 1956 drought in Texas was worse, as if that means the current drought doesn’t exist.  Fore reasons apparent only to those whose heads get pinched by tinfoil hats, he also notes the CO2 levels for 1956.  I think I know what point he’s trying to make, but someone should tell him that apples are not oranges, and comparing apples and oranges to pomegranates doesn’t increase the supply of tennis balls.

Let’s just stick to the facts.  The experts who must operate the dams and lakes and get water to Mexico on schedule say the drought along the Colorado persists.  Who are we to gainsay them?

Resources:  

GEOSat photos of Lake Powell and drought, 2000 to 2004 - Dr. Paul R. Baumann, SUNY - Oneonta College

GEOSat photos of Lake Powell and drought, 2000 to 2004 - Dr. Paul R. Baumann, SUNY - Oneonta College


Raise taxes to pay for regulation? What do we get for our money?

May 25, 2011

Letters to a blog of the Orange County Register (California):

In praise of regulations

ORANGE, Susan Wong: I recently went through my day being mindful of what taxes do for me. I took a shower in clean water. I drove to work over safe, well-maintained streets. I was free to practice a profession of my choosing. I am able to do this work because I got my degree at a California state school and passed the California Board exam to earn my license.

On the way home, I stopped at an FDIC bank to take out some money that I had earned and am allowed to keep to support myself and my family. I stopped at a grocery store and bought safe food to eat due to various government regulations. I took my dog for a walk at a beautiful regional park. I picked up a takeout dinner at a restaurant inspected by state inspectors. And I went to sleep in peace.

Government exists to provide us with tangible things that an individual cannot provide for himself. I am so tired of people complaining about taxes as if they get nothing in return. It takes money to run a government that allows us to live our lives as we do.

So, let’s be grown-up about it and raise taxes to keep California from becoming a third-world country.   (May 25, 2011)

Evidence that not every Californian is crazy.


No bus coming, so Republican/Tea Partiers call cops on Grandma

May 25, 2011

Republicans and Tea Partiers in Michigan can’t exactly be accused of throwing their grandmothers under the bus, but only because there was no bus coming at that moment.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, scheduled a meeting with Tea Party supporters last Saturday.  When senior citizens showed up, apparently fearing they would raise some questions about the Republican budget plan with figuratively throws grandma under the bus with drastic cuts to Medicare, organizers called police, claiming the post-65 group had started physical violence.

You couldn’t make this stuff up, could you?  If it were fiction, who would believe it?

Read the full story at DailyKos (with links to ThinkProgress):

One way Republicans have found of dealing with the bad press and hostility they’ve faced in public meetings over their highly unpopular budget plan has been what’s actually a pretty typical Republican response: censorship. They’ve clamped down on reporters and citizen journalists, barring them from recording the events.

In Michigan, they’ve taken it up a notch, courtesy of Tea Party control freaks who not only banned a group of senior citizens and reporters, but called security on them at an event with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

Rep. Justin Amash held a townhall meeting sponsored by a Tea Party group on Saturday sponsored by a Tea Party group, but a group of senior citizens and two reporters — including this one — were denied entry to the event.The traditional purpose of a townhall meeting is for an elected official to meet with his constituents in public, giving the people a chance to ask questions and engage in dialogue with their representatives. But neither the organizers nor Amash apparently wanted to hear from or speak to a group of concerned senior citizens — even at a time when the fate of Medicare is being debated in Congress.

About eight senior citizens arrived at the Prince Conference Center on the Calvin College campus for a chance to question Amash concerning his voting record in regards to eliminating Medicare.

Once barred from attending the event, the seniors stood out in the parking lot where they were taking questions from this reporter and Tanya Somanader of Think Progress, the two members of the media who were denied access. Eventually, six security guards arrived on the scene and said that both the seniors and the reporters had to leave.

Amash, and the Michigan Republicans, appear to be too embarrassed to talk about the GOP budget approved by the House of Representatives.  Those senior citizens kicked out of the meeting had been invited to attend by the Tea Party, apparently unaware that their ideas are unpopular among their own nominal supporters.  Invited, then kicked out.

Amash and Republicans should be embarrassed.

At least the security guys who responded also saw the humor in the ridiculous situation


Hochul won Congressional seat in upstate New York

May 24, 2011

I get e-mail from Nancy Pelosi from time to time, like tonight:

Ed –

It is my great pleasure to report that tonight, thanks to you, Democrat Kathy Hochul has won a triumphant grassroots victory in the special election in NY-26.

Victories like this are what happen when we fight together to protect our core Democratic values.

Congresswoman-elect Hochul’s victory in a staunchly-Republican district has shocked the political world and sent an unmistakable sign that the American people will not stand for the Republicans’ reckless and extreme agenda to end Medicare.

This is our third straight special election victory in New York — and it is truly one for the ages. All of the Republicans’ right-wing outside groups with their secret money and dishonest attacks were no match for the combined strength of grassroots Democrats.

Thank you again for fighting to protect and defend Medicare and bringing us one step closer to regaining our Democratic House Majority.

Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Leader

Is there a lesson in the election?  Yes, there is:  Republicans overreached when they started their march against Medicare.

See the story in the New York Times:

Two months ago, the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, was considered an all-but-certain loser in the race against the Republican, Jane Corwin. But Ms. Hochul seized on the Republican’s embrace of the proposal from Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, to overhaul Medicare, and she never let up.

On Tuesday, she captured 48 percent of the vote, to Ms. Corwin’s 42 percent, according to unofficial results. A Tea Party candidate, Jack Davis, had 8 percent.

Voters, who turned out in strikingly large numbers for a special election, said they trusted Ms. Hochul, the county clerk of Erie County, to protect Medicare.

Kathy Hochul on election night, May 24, 2011 - New York Times photo by Michael Appleton

Kathy Hochul claimed victory at an election party in Amherst, New York, on Tuesday night. Hochul won a seat in Congress in what has traditionally been a Republican district in New York. New York Times photo by Michael Appleton


Trouble in Texas: Big city school supers bail out

May 24, 2011

Texas schools continue to suffer under the oppression of the Republican state legislature (“the Lege”) and Gov.  Rick Perry’s assault on education funding at all levels.

Last Thursday, May 19, some of the seams that hold Texas education together unraveled enough that problems spilled out for the public to see and wonder.  In Dallas, school Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced he plans to take the job open in the Cobb County, Georgia, school district.  Hinojosa signed a three-year, more-money contract extension with Dallas Independent School District (ISD) earlier this year when he was passed over for the top job in Las Vegas, Nevada schools.

His announcement that he was leaving caught school board members flat footed, and not necessarily happy.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Melody Johnson announced her resignation at about the same time.  She said she was resigning for personal reasons — her mother is ill — but it is also true that she has not had a good relationship with the board of the district, and things have been very contentious over the past several months.

Hinojosa made a statement to teachers and others working in Dallas ISD:

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by the Cobb County School District in Georgia about the position of superintendent. This past Sunday, I met with their board and tonight I was named a sole finalist for the position. This process has moved very quickly, to say the least.

It is an honor to be considered and is yet another indicator that the achievements experienced in the Dallas Independent School District are being noticed by other school districts throughout the country. I did not seek the position in Cobb County, nor have I been looking to leave Dallas.

I am enormously proud of the accomplishments that have been achieved with our Board of Trustees during the past six years. The number of Dallas students passing statewide exams at both passing and college-ready levels has increased every year. The number of students graduating from our schools has increased during the last three years. The number of students taking and passing AP exams is going up every year. The number of schools considered exemplary by the state of Texas has increased each year.

This did not happen because of any one individual. It happened because of a shared commitment from the staff of the entire Dallas Independent School District. To be part of the progress that has been made has been something very special.

I am not certain how things will play out in Georgia during the next few weeks. Please know that, regardless of what happens, your work on behalf of the students of Dallas ISD continues to be deeply appreciated.

Thank you.

One might hope he’s up to date on the creationism-evolution controversy for the sake of his new job; evolution is not controversial in Dallas ISD. It’s been a tough year for most Texas school superintendents.

When schools are supposed to be planning for fall, most districts in Texas still don’t know how deep will be the cuts in funding from the state legislature.  Consequently, schools do not know how many faculty they will have to lay off, and that makes planning for the coming year all but completely impossible.  We should expect more than a few of them to be weary of these fights, and wearing out.

Mick Jagger sang about the Texas Lege:

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads

Let’s think of the wavering millions

Who need leaders but get gamblers instead


Rolling Stones, “Salt of the Earth”

May 24, 2011


Blaming the teachers can’t overcome problems of poverty in educational achievement

May 24, 2011

We got the scores from the state yesterday, for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).  Most of my students are juniors, so this is a big deal.  If they pass these tests, in mathematics, science, English language arts and social studies.

Preliminary results gave me a 100% pass rate with 41% commended, out of  134 students whose scores counted (don’t ask about those formulae).  Considering that our students’ poverty rate, as measured by school lunches, is well north of 85%, that’s good.

It doesn’t mean all these kids are ready for the Ivy League, though.

I know the preliminary results err somewhere.  I can find two students in special education categories who did not muster the scores I had hoped, and to me, it looks like they may need to retake.  Two failures wouldn’t be bad, either.  I’ll let the state and our administrators fight that out.

So, I’ve done an okay job of teaching our kids bubble guessing.   That’ what the TAKS test does, focus teaching on bubble guessing.  Are we getting these kids ready for life and college?  I have more doubts.  The TAKS curriculum is limited, and shallow.  Dallas District has two other tests, but again the curriculum tested is limited and shallow.

Each year I discover most students don’t remember what they studied of Paul Revere, and almost none know the famous Longfellow poem about him.  They don’t know about Joyce Kilmer, either his poem or the sacrifice of his life.

Reading political cartoons proves difficult for many students, because they don’t understand the symbolism, sometimes of easy stuff like, “who does the Statue of  Liberty represent?” or “why is that guy dressed in a star-spangled coat, striped pants and striped top hat?”

They don’t know about Route 66.  They don’t know the National Parks.  They don’t know Broadway, nor Stephen Foster.  They are convinced Utah has some big river that led the Mormons to settle there, “on or near a waterway,” instead of the real reasons the Mormons settled there, for religious freedom in a desert.

Despite their remarkable test achievements, their teachers are all on the chopping block this year.  The Texas Lege still quibbles over whether to lay off 10,000 or 100,000 teachers over the summer.  We leave the academic year knowing only that the legislature as a collective hates teachers and teaching and schools, and they probably don’t like the students much, either, but they can’t say that because they want the students’ parents’ votes.

Jonathan at JD 2718 sent me a note a couple of weeks ago alerting me to a story in the online Texas Tribune, by Reeve Hamilton.  Hamilton interviewed Dr. Michael Marder, a physicist at the University of Texas at Austin who in his spare times runs UT’s UTeach Program, which encourages the best students in science and math to consider teaching elementary and secondary classes.  Marder has a strong case to make that it’s not the teacher’s fault when students in some schools do not measure up to the standards promulgated by the state tests, inadequate and inappropriate as those standards are.

(Personal note:  Reeve Hamilton is a very good reporter who often does great work on otherwise mundane issues; he’s also the son of a woman I met in graduate school at the University of Arizona, the first woman who ever gave me a highly contingent proposal of marriage, which as you see we did not carry out — probably much to the benefit of all of us, with Reeve doing such great work, and all our kids being basically sane and sound.  I smiled when Jonathan said such good things about Reeve’s work, and the subject of the story.  Nice to hear unasked-for compliments about people you know and like.)

Marder knows numbers.  Marder got the statistics on schools and their preparation of students for college, as well as we can get those numbers without an expensive and expansive study.

Michael Marder’s numbers show that it’s not the teachers’ fault that so many students are not ready for college, and not learning the stuff we think they should know.

Texas Tribune said:

In the popular 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “But even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them.”

After looking at the data, Marder has yet to be convinced that any teaching solution has been found that can overcome the detrimental effects of poverty on a large scale — and that we may be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

Hamilton’s interview of Marder takes up three YouTube segments — you should watch all three.

Marder indicts those who blame teachers first, with the data.  By implication, he also indicts the state legislatures who appear bent on continuing the daily flogging of teachers until teacher morale improves.

In Part I of the interview with Hamilton, Marder shows the statistics that demonstrate poverty of the student is a greater influence on student achievement than the teacher:


May 23, 1926: Mencken confessed the Millard Fillmore bathtub hoax

May 23, 2011

May 23, 1926, H. L. Mencken’s newspaper column confessed his hoax of nine years earlier — he had made up whole cloth the story of Millard Fillmore’s only accomplishment being the installation of a plumbed bathtub in the White House (in the 1850s known as the Executive Mansion).

Alas, the hoax cat was out of the bag, and the hoax information still pollutes the pool of history today.

Text of the confession, from the Museum of Hoaxes:

Melancholy Reflections

On Dec. 28, 1917, I printed in the New York Evening Mail, a paper now extinct, an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious…

This article, as I say, was planned as a piece of spoofing to relieve the strain of war days, and I confess that I regarded it, when it came out, with considerable satisfaction. It was reprinted by various great organs of the enlightenment, and after a while the usual letters began to reach me from readers. Then, suddenly, my satisfaction turned to consternation. For these readers, it appeared, all took my idle jocosities with complete seriousness. Some of them, of antiquarian tastes, asked for further light on this or that phase of the subject. Others actually offered me corroboration!

But the worst was to come. Pretty soon I began to encounter my preposterous “facts” in the writings of other men. They began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals. They were alluded to on the floor of congress. They crossed the ocean, and were discussed solemnly in England and on the continent. Finally, I began to find them in standard works of reference. Today, I believe, they are accepted as gospel everywhere on earth. To question them becomes as hazardous as to question the Norman invasion.

* * *

And as rare. This is the first time, indeed, that they have ever been questioned, and I confess at once that even I myself, their author, feel a certain hesitancy about doing it. Once more, I suppose, I’ll be accused of taking the wrong side for the mere pleasure of standing in opposition. The Cincinnati boomers, who have made much of the boast that the bathtub industry, now running to $200,000,000 a year, was started in their town, will charge me with spreading lies against them. The chiropractors will damn me for blowing up their ammunition. The medical gents, having swallowed my quackery, will now denounce me as a quack for exposing them. And in the end, no doubt, the thing will simmer down to a general feeling that I have once more committed some vague and sinister crime against the United States, and there will be a renewal of the demand that I be deported to Russia.

I recite this history, not because it is singular, but because it is typical. It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess — or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie — ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books. One recalls the gaudy days of 1914-1918. How much that was then devoured by the newspaper readers of the world was actually true? Probably not 1 per cent. Ever since the war ended learned and laborious men have been at work examining and exposing its fictions. But every one of these fictions retains full faith and credit today. To question even the most palpably absurd of them, in most parts of the United States, is to invite denunciation as a bolshevik.

So with all other wars. For example, the revolution. For years past American historians have been investigating the orthodox legends. Almost all of them turn out to be blowsy nonsense. Yet they remain in the school history books and every effort to get them out causes a dreadful row, and those who make it are accused of all sorts of treasons and spoils. The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.

* * *

As a practicing journalist for many years, I have often had close contact with history in the making. I can recall no time or place when what actually occurred was afterward generally known and believed. Sometimes a part of the truth got out, but never all. And what actually got out was seldom clearly understood. Consider, for example, the legends that follow every national convention. A thousand newspaper correspondents are on the scene, all of them theoretically competent to see accurately and report honestly, but it is seldom that two of them agree perfectly, and after a month after the convention adjourns the accepted version of what occurred usually differs from the accounts of all of them.

I point to the Republican convention of 1920, which nominated the eminent and lamented Harding. A week after the delegates adjourned the whole country believed that Harding had been put through by Col. George Harvey: Harvey himself admitted it. Then other claimants to the honor arose, and after a year or two it was generally held that the trick had been turned by the distinguished Harry M. Daugherty, by that time a salient light of the Harding cabinet. The story began to acquire corroborative detail. Delegates and correspondents began to remember things that they had not noticed on the spot. What the orthodox tale is today with Daugherty in eclipse, I don’t know, but you may be sure that it is full of mysterious intrigue and bold adventure.

What are the facts? The facts are that Harvey had little more to do with the nomination of Harding than I did, and that Daugherty was immensely surprised when good Warren won. The nomination was really due to the intense heat, and to that alone. The delegates, torn by the savage three cornered fight between Lowden, Johnson, and Wood, came to Saturday morning in despair. The temperature in the convention hall was at least 120 degrees. They were eager to get home. When it became apparent that the leaders could not break the deadlock they ran amuck and nominated Harding, as the one aspirant who had no enemies. If any individual managed the business it was not Harvey or Daugherty, but Myron T. Herrick. But so far as I know Herrick’s hand in it has never been mentioned.

* * *

I turn to a more pleasant field — that of sport in the grand manner. On July 2, 1921, in the great bowl at Jersey City, the Hon. Jack Dempsey met M. Carpentier, the gallant frog. The sympathy of the crowd was overwhelmingly with M. Carpentier and every time he struck a blow he got a round of applause, even if it didn’t land. I had an excellent seat, very near the ring, and saw every move of the two men. From the first moment Dr. Dempsey had it all his own way. He could have knocked out M. Carpentier in the first half of the first round. After that first half he simply waited his chance to do it politely and humanely.

Yet certain great newspapers reported the next morning that M. Carpentier had delivered an appalling wallop in the second round and that Dr. Dempsey had narrowly escaped going out. Others told the truth, but what chance had the truth against that romantic lie? It is believed in to this day by at least 99.99 per cent of all the boxing fans in Christendom. Carpentier himself, when he recovered from his beating, admitted categorically that it was nonsense, but even Carpentier could make no headway against the almost universal human tendency to cherish what is not true. A thousand years hence schoolboys will be taught that the frog had Dempsey going. It may become in time a religious dogma, like the doctrine that Jonah swallowed the whale. Scoffers who doubt it will be damned to hell.

The moral, if any, I leave to psycho-pathologists, if competent ones can be found. All I care to do today is to reiterate, in the most solemn and awful terms, that my history of the bathtub, printed on Dec. 28, 1917, was pure buncombe. If there were any facts in it they got there accidentally and against my design. But today the tale is in the encyclopedias. History, said a great American soothsayer, is bunk.


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